OZARK — William McKenzie was on a rescue mission during the Vietnam War when he recognized one of the prisoners of war he was saving was his own brother-in-law.
That realization is why the U.S. Marine Corps veteran traveled from Montgomery to Ozark on Monday for a press conference at Ozark City Hall announcing a new Prisoner of War/Missing In Action vehicle tag which officials hope will be available this year to anyone in the state who wants one.
Companion bills supporting the tags were introduced by Rep. Steve Clouse, R-Ozark, and Sen. Harri Anne Smith, R-Slocomb, and passed by the state Legislature.
Smith said Gov. Bob Riley will likely sign the bill into legislation this week and that people could commit to purchasing the tags sometime this summer after paying a $5 fee, which will go to the Veterans Assistance Fund.
A total of 1,000 commitments are needed within a year before the tags will be manufactured.
Clouse said an interest in the tags came from veterans who wanted the legacy of prisoners of war and those missing in action to go beyond their lifetime.
Currently, a prisoner of war gets a free vehicle tag in Alabama for the rest of their lives.
The tag is passed on to the prisoner of war’s spouse after death, but cannot be passed down further, Clouse said.
“There are a lot of veterans around the state and individuals who had family members who were POWs or who were missing in action that were very interested in having this passed,” Clouse said.
“There are a lot of things that haven’t passed this year, so we are certainly grateful that this was introduced early and made it through.“
U.S. Army veteran Bill Seyler said the tag symbolized the state’s vow to stand up for its veterans.
“The people here today are just a small number of the people who are interested in this. We’ll make sure we have the thousand we need to get this tag,” Seyler said.
U.S. Navy veteran Butch Moody said the tag showed that POWs and those missing in action are not forgotten.
“It’s taken patience, but it’s here now,” he said.
Clouse said Max Roberts, legislative coordinator for Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 373, was active in pursuing the tag legislation.
Roberts said veterans from across the Wiregrass supported the idea.